Ceres resident Bridget Ludy doesn’t seem like your typical cannabis manufacturer.
The 60-year-old married mother of two has lived in the Central Valley for the past 25 years. She is also a grandmother to two small children. She doesn’t smoke or drink. And her company’s Twitter feed is peppered with retweets of Fox News stories.
Still, for the past four years she has been researching and later making medical marijuana chocolates. Now she hopes, thanks to changes brought on by the passage of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act last November, to begin small-scale manufacturing of her chocolate edibles in Ceres.
“I think everyone is scared, and I don’t blame them,” she said. “But it is going to come to our community, and I want to make sure I’m a voice for good decision making on behalf of our town.”
Ludy hopes to become licensed and permitted to manufacture in her hometown in the near future. She is among the influx of interested individuals, groups and businesses paying close attention to how Central Valley city councils and boards of supervisors handle the pending legalization of certain recreational marijuana use, cultivation, manufacturing and retail sale and delivery. Starting Jan. 1, legally licensed cannabis businesses will begin opening across the state.
Ludy’s road to cannabis manufacturing was an unlikely one. For decades, her family and friends had complimented her on her homemade chocolates and sweet concoctions. In 2011, that turned into its own full-fledged business when Bibby’s Chocolates was born. She manufactures her own proprietary blend of chocolate mix for commercial sale out of a facility in north Modesto. She began Bibby’s, which is her nickname, to help supplement her family income while she was taking care of an elderly aunt with Alzheimer’s.
Then, about four and a half years ago, she was approached by people with cannabis businesses in Colorado — which voted to legalize recreational use and sale of marijuana in 2012 — about using her chocolate for marijuana edibles. At first, she laughed at the idea of her product being used for pot. But they persisted, and then she started to look into its medical uses.
As a chocolatier, Ludy said, she had always taken a scientific approach to her cooking and confectionery. So she put that same approach into cannabis.
“People know how serious I am about my chocolate and that I take things pretty seriously,” she said.
Around 2015, Ludy and her business partners began testing her chocolates in the medical marijuana market, and then launched Pivotal Chocolates. She began using a facility in Oakland to manufacture her products. She makes about half a dozen cannabis products, all using her signature blend of dark chocolate. Most of her items are relatively low-dose, from 5 mg to 10 mg of THC, though she also produces a 45-mg-per-dose chocolate bar.
She said she has spoken with veterans who use her products to combat PTSD and others battling illness about the benefits of medical marijuana. One of her biggest concerns about upcoming regulations surrounding its recreational legalization, manufacturing and sale has to do with proper dosing. She believes part of the problem with the current medical marijuana system is the vast variances between stated doses and actual doses in products. They can vary wildly, she said, and hopes state regulators clamp down and require manufacturers to be more accurate.
“I want to help people and bring people relief. And now we have the possibility to help people in Ceres and also employ people,” Ludy said. “I’d like to be a voice here to help educate the community (about cannabis).”
Ceres has not finalized the city’s ordinances surrounding commercial marijuana manufacturing or sale yet. Ludy said she would love to set up a 15,000-square-foot facility to manufacture her product. She estimates the company would employ 20 to 30 people initially. The project would constitute a $250,000 to $500,000 investment to start.
Ludy went public with her hopes to begin manufacturing in Ceres at the City Council meeting Oct. 9. The council will pick up the topic of marijuana business permits at its Monday meeting, when it will hold a public hearing to consider zoning for a new 6,000-square foot marijuana dispensary on Angie Avenue on the city’s northeast edge. Earlier this summer, the council agreed to have city staff look into amending the municipal code to approve and regulate marijuana dispensaries on a case-by-case basis.
Ceres has been among a few area cities signaling a willingness to work with various marijuana businesses who want to open within its limits. In May, the council approved a 20,000-square-foot medical marijuana facility in Miller Industrial Park, south of Service Road. The three-year deal with Kase Manufacturing is expected to bring in $2.7 million in fee revenue to the city.
The new Angie Avenue dispensary is projected to bring in $560,000 to $1.2 million in city fees a year, depending on its gross receipts each month.
Ludy and her partners have suspended manufacturing out of Oakland for the time being, in preparation for the Jan. 1 regulatory changes and in hopes of starting up their operation full-time in Ceres. As area communities grapple with how to regulate the coming legalization and sales, Ludy said she wants to be a big part of the conversation — as unlikely as that may seem.
“I think I’m the last kind of person you’d look at and say, ‘Oh, she’s into this.’ When I look at my overall life and how I got here, holy cow. I find it very fascinating,” she said. “I am excited about the future. Through this cannabis adventure, it has really opened my eyes.”